Pakistan and Turkey are arm in arm all along

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

What Ankara Knows

By Ramzy Baroud

“Even despots, gangsters and pirates have specific sensitiveness, (and) follow some specific morals.”

The claim was made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a recent speech, following the deadly commando raid on the humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza on May 31. According to Erdogan, Israel doesn’t adhere to the code of conduct embraced even by the vilest of criminals.

The statement alone indicates the momentous political shift that’s currently underway in the Middle East. While the shift isn’t entirely new, one dares to claim it might now be a lasting one. To borrow from Erdogan’s own assessment of the political fallout that followed Israel’s raid, the damage is “irreparable.”

Countless analyses have emerged in the wake of the long-planned and calculated Israeli attack on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, which claimed the lives of nine, mostly Turkish peace activists.

In “Turkey’s Strategic U-Turn, Israel’s Tactical Mistakes,” published in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Ofra Bengio suggested Turkey’s position was purely strategic. But he also chastised Israel for driving Turkey further and faster “toward the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

In this week’s Zaman, a Turkish publication, Bulent Kenes wrote: “As a result of the Davos (where the Turkish prime minister stormed out of a televised discussion with Israeli President Shimon Peres, after accusing him and Israel of murder), the myth that Israel is untouchable was destroyed by Erdogan, and because of that Israel nurses a hatred for Turkey.”

In fact, the Davos incident is significant not because it demonstrates that Israel can be criticized, but rather because it was Turkey — and not any other easily dismissible party — that dared to voice such criticism.

Writing in the Financial Times under the title, “Erdogan turns to face East in a delicate balancing act,” David Gardner places Turkey’s political turn within a European context. He sums up that thought in a quote uttered by no other than Robert Gates, US defense secretary: “If there is anything to the notion that Turkey is moving Eastward, it is in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought.” But what many analysts missed was the larger political and historical context, not only as pertaining to Israel and Turkey, but to the whole region and all its players, including the US itself. Only this context can help us understand the logic behind Israel’s seemingly erratic behavior.

In 1996, Israeli leaders appeared very confident. A group of neoconservative American politicians had laid out a road map for Israel to ensure complete dominance over the Middle East. In the document entitled, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” Turkey was mentioned four times. Each reference envisaged the country as a tool to “contain, destabilize, and roll back some of .. (the) most dangerous threats” to Israel. That very “vision” in fact served as the backbone of the larger strategy used by the US, as it carried out its heedless military adventures in the Middle East.

Frustrated by the American failure to reshape the region and unquestioningly eliminate anything and everything that Israel might perceive as a threat, Israel took matters into its own hands. However, in 2006 and between 2008 and 2009, it was up for major surprises. Superior firepower doesn’t guarantee military victory. More, while Israel had once more demonstrated its capacity to inflict untold damage on people and infrastructure, the Israeli weapon was no longer strategically effective. In other words, Israel’s military advantage could no longer translate into political gains, and this was a game-changer.

There are many issues the Israeli leadership has had to wrangle with in recent years. The US, Israel’s most faithful benefactor, is now on a crisis management mode in Iraq and Afghanistan, struggling on all fronts, whether political, military or economic. That recoil has further emboldened Israel’s enemies, who are no longer intimidated by the American bogyman. Israel’s desperate attempt at using its own military to achieve its grand objectives has also failed, and miserably so.
Read more of this post

NATO Expansion, Missile Deployments And Russia’s New Military Doctrine

Developments related to military and security matters in Europe and Asia have been numerous this month and condensed into less than a week of meetings, statements and initiatives on issues ranging from missile shield deployments to the unparalleled escalation of the world’s largest war and from a new security system for Europe to a new Russian military doctrine.

A full generation after the end of the Cold War and almost that long since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the past week’s events are evocative of another decade and another century. Twenty or more years ago war in Afghanistan and controversial missile placements in Europe were current news in a bipolar world.

Twenty years afterward, with no Soviet Union, no Warsaw Pact and a greatly diminished and truncated Russia, the United States and NATO have militarized Europe to an unprecedented degree – in fact subordinating almost the entire continent under a Washington-dominated military bloc – and have launched the most extensive combat offensive in South Asia in what is already the longest war in the world.

Of 44 nations in Europe and the Caucasus (excluding microstates and the NATO pseudo-state of Kosovo), only six – Belarus, Cyprus, Malta, Moldova, Russia and Serbia – have escaped having their citizens conscripted by NATO for deployment to the Afghan war front. That number will soon shrink yet further.

Of those 44 countries, only two – Cyprus and Russia – are not members of NATO or its Partnership for Peace transitional program and Cyprus is under intense pressure to join the second.

On February 4 and 5 all 28 NATO defense chiefs met for two days of deliberations in Istanbul, Turkey which concentrated on the war in Afghanistan, the bloc’s military deployment in Kosovo and accelerated plans for expanding a world-wide interceptor missile system to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. That gathering followed by eight days a two-day meeting of the NATO Military Committee in Brussels which included 63 military chiefs from NATO nations and 35 Troop Contributing Nations, as the bloc designates them, including the top military commanders of Israel and Pakistan. That conference focused on the Afghan war and NATO’s new Strategic Concept to be officially formalized at an Alliance summit later this year.

The commander of all 150,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, attended both two-day meetings. Pentagon chief Robert Gates presided over the second and “Afghanistan and missile defense are examples of the new priorities that Gates wants NATO to focus on.” [1]

As indicated by the number of Chiefs of Defense Staff in attendance at the Brussels meetings – 63 – NATO’s reach has been extended far beyond Europe and North America over the past decade. Troops serving under the bloc’s command in Afghanistan come from every inhabited continent, the Middle East and Oceania: Australia has the largest non-member contingent with over 1,500 soldiers, and other non-European nations like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, Georgia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates have troops in Afghanistan or on the way there.

On the day the Istanbul NATO defense ministers meeting began Romanian President Traian Basescu announced that he had granted the Obama administration’s request to base U.S. interceptor missiles in his nation, following by five weeks the news that U.S. Patriot anti-ballistic missiles would be stationed in a part of Poland a half hour drive from Russia’s westernmost border.

The next day, February 5, which marked two months since the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia regulating the reduction of nuclear weapons and delivery systems expired, [2] the Russian Interfax news agency announced that “President Dmitry Medvedev has endorsed Russia’s military doctrine and basic principles of its nuclear deterrence policy in the period up to 2020….” [3]

The same source cited Security Council Deputy Secretary and former Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Yury Baluyevsky commenting on the new doctrine: “It is planned to develop the ground, sea, and aerial components of the nuclear triad….Russia needs to guarantee its consistent democratic development using such a stability guarantor as nuclear weapons, as a form of strategic deterrence….Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only if its very existence as a state is endangered.” [4]

Commentary in the Indian daily The Hindu specified that “The doctrine details 11 external military threats to Russia, seven of which are traced to the West. NATO´s eastward expansion and its push for a global role are identified as the number one threat to Russia.”

The feature added: “The U.S. is the source of other top threats listed in the doctrine even though the country is never mentioned in the document. These include attempts to destabilise countries and regions and undermine strategic stability; military build-ups in neighbouring states and seas; the creation and deployment of strategic missile defences, as well as the militarisation of outer space and deployment of high-precision non-nuclear strategic systems.”

Regarding the timing of the authorization of Russia’s new military strategy, the report connected it with recent U.S. missile shield decisions and the START talks between Washington and Moscow still dragging on.

“The new defence doctrine was signed into law and published a day after Romania announced plans to deploy U.S. interceptor missiles as part of a global missile shield fiercely opposed by Russia. Earlier reports said the Kremlin had been holding back the doctrine, prepared last year, because it did not want to jeopardise talks with the U.S. on a new nuclear arms pact that are still going on.” [5]

A similar observation was made in a report from China’s Xinhua News Agency:

“Analysts say the Romanian decision came at a crucial moment when Washington and Moscow are about to sign a successor document to the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1). Therefore, the move may upset the thawing Russia-U.S. relations and put their bilateral ties to test.” [6]

The new Russian Military Doctrine (in Russian at http://news.kremlin.ru/ref_notes/461) listed under the heading of “Main external threats of war” the following concerns, with the most pressing first: Read more of this post

Turkey’s affiliations are swinging from West to East.

Turkey’s affiliations under the leadership of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a devout Muslim — are swinging from West to East. This is good news for the Arab world as Ankara is a major political and military player on the international stage with substantial clout. In recent times, Turkey has thawed the freeze with Syria by signing a slew of economic, cultural, social and strategic cooperation agreements and is mulling over lifting visa restrictions for Syrian and Lebanese nationals.

At the same time, Turkey is reaching out to Armenia by setting up a commission to study the World War I conflict that robbed the lives of over a million Ottoman-Armenians. Last October, Ankara and Yerevan signed protocols designed to establish ties that would result in the reopening of their border but the main sticking point is Armenia’s insistence that Turkey and the international community officially recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey has always resisted that damning label and always insisted that those who died were casualties of conflict.

Simultaneously, the Erdogan government is cementing relations with Russia with trade and energy agreements; Russia currently supplies around 65 percent of Turkey’s natural gas requirements and may assist Turkey with the construction of a nuclear energy plant. This new closeness has resulted in plans to extend cooperation to the South Caucasus — traditionally within Russia’s sphere of influence — as well as visa-free travel for the citizens of both nations.

Likewise, Ankara currently enjoys good relations with Tehran. Earlier this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks in Ankara with Prime Minister Erdogan involving the transportation of Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey, establishing a joint refinery, jointly constructing industrial centers and increasing bilateral trade from $10 billion annually to $30 billion. The Turkish minister of state said Turkey is keen to begin a “golden age” in Turkish-Iranian ties. While Turkey is against nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, it backs Iran’s right to nuclear energy and does not support anti-Iranian sanctions.

But there the love fest ends. Ankara’s relations with some of its traditional allies are strained to say the least.

Its important strategic alliance with Washington, which culminated in America’s Incirlik Air base was shaken when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Turkey was against the Iraq war from the get-go and blames it for strengthening Kurdish secessionist ambitions. And when, in 2007, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution in favor of Armenia’s stance on the alleged “genocide,” Turkey temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Washington.

However, for its part, the US government tends to tread softly with Turkey in light of its NATO role as a strong eastern bulwark and its hosting of Incirlik which was a crucial asset during the Cold War and the 1991 Gulf War. Turkey’s importance to Washington was reflected by President Barack Obama’s official visit, last April — criticized within some US circles as blessing a country embarked on establishing a powerful Islamic bloc contrary to American interests. The US has also fervently backed Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, which has been somewhat of an annoyance to European countries that are vehemently opposed. Linda Heard
—AN

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Why India came back to the negotiating table

ISLAMABAD: Renewed international pressure and growing realisation in New Delhi that the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan could deprive it of its strategic leverage in the region has forced the sudden change of heart in India regarding ties with Pakistan, according to diplomats and analysts.

“It was being increasingly felt by strategists in New Delhi that after recent conferences on Afghanistan that endorsed President Hamid Karzai’s plan for reintegrating Taliban, India was being left out and Pakistan might take the centre stage,” a diplomat told Dawn when asked about the Indian proposal for resumption of bilateral talks.

It all started with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s call to her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, almost a week ago, inviting him to Delhi in February for talks on wide-ranging issues that have been constraining the bilateral ties, particularly in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

She expressed Indian government’s willingness to discuss issues besides terrorism which would remain the focus of the parleys.

Ms Rao went to the extent of offering negotiations on contentious issues like the water dispute, but stayed short of suggesting resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

India’s eagerness for resuming talks was evident from Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s belated admission that there was also a local Indian link to Mumbai attacks for which New Delhi had earlier been blaming Pakistan-based terror groups only.

Things afterwards started moving at a rapid pace towards detente. Pakistan sought clarifications and on Friday High Commissioner Shahid Malik met Ms Rao in New Delhi to discuss the agenda and possible dates for the meeting.

Although Pakistan is insisting on accepting nothing short of Composite Dialogue, there is realisation in the Foreign Office that sticking to revival of peace talks may jeopardise the opportunity for normalisation of strained ties.

The thinking is that the offer of initial contacts should be availed and subsequently taken forward to full resumption of Composite Dialogue.

“The attempt is to keep talking about the issues which are of concern to us,” Mr Malik said.

Although analysts and diplomats believe there are a number of factors that triggered the rethinking in India, the primary reason remains the changing scenario in Afghanistan coupled with the impending reintegration of Taliban in Afghan society. Read more of this post

NATO, Afghanistan and Israel

Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, while addressing the two-day conference of the defence ministers from NATO’s 28-member-state in Istanbul on February 5, 2010 – told them that Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people and the country’s problems can only be solved by the Afghans and not the western countries occupying Afghanistan. He also told the ministers that over 15 million Afghan children need food, clean water and education and not foreign troops. The conference was also attended by pro-Israel British politician Catherine Ashton on behalf of EU and and US puppet government in Kabul’s interior and defence ministers.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen earlier admitted that Afghan resistance to the US and its willing collaborators – have been gaining more and more popularity among the frustrated Afghan population. According to him the resistance had only 400 members in 2004, jumped to 25,000 in 2009 and 30,000 now. These ill-equipped Taliban are fighting against the world’s most deadly armies of close to 140,000-strong. The chief of the US-coalition forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal told the conference: “The coalition forces are not winning the war in Afghanistan”.

According to the Christian Science Monitor (September 11, 2009), Taliban have recaptured  more than 80% of Afghanistan territory. Former Senator Fred Thompson, last year also admitted that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan many years ago. “It really doesn’t matter how President Obama divides the Afghan baby, how he splits the difference between McChrystal and Biden. Because the war has been lost,” Thompson said on his radio show”

Earlier during the London Conference on Afghanistan, held on January 27-28 in London (UK) – it was revealed that NATO has offered US$300 million to Taliban if they lay-down their armed resistance against US-NATO forces. The offer was rejected by Taliban leadership as the defeated West’s  ”exit strategy”. Read more of this post

US far from winning in Afghanistan: McChrystal

The commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, says the coalition forces are “not winning” the war in Afghanistan.

McChrystal made remarks at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Turkey.

He told reporters in Istanbul on Thursday that he does not believe the allied efforts in Afghanistan has “turned a corner.”

“I’m not prepared to say that we’ve turned the corner.”

“I still will tell you that I believe the situation in Afghanistan is serious,” McChrystal said on the sidelines of the Istanbul summit.

While US President Barack Obama was considering a troop surge last October, McChrystal had warned that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and the coalition risked failure if it did not send more troops.

General McChrystal, however, claimed that US-led forces had made “significant progress” last year and set the stage for even more progress this year.

He noted that success in the war-weary country is something that is difficult to measure.

“This is all a war of perceptions. This is not a physical war in terms of how many people you kill, how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up,” said McChrystal. Read more of this post

The Planning of War Behind Closed Doors

Brussels, London, Istanbul: A Week Of Western War Councils


Rick Rozoff: The defense chiefs of all 28 NATO nations and an undisclosed number of counterparts from non-Alliance partners gathered in Istanbul, Turkey on February 4 to begin two days of meetings focused on the war in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of military forces from Kosovo in the course of transferring control of security operations to the breakaway province’s embryonic army (the Kosovo Security Force) and “the transformation efforts required to best conduct the full range of NATO’s agreed missions.” [1]

Istanbul was the site of the bloc’s 2004 summit which accounted for the largest expansion in its 60-year history – seven new Eastern European nations – and its strengthening military partnerships with thirteen Middle Eastern and African nations under the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

The Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral James Stavridis and the top commander of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan – soon to reach over 150,000 – General Stanley McChrystal are also in attendance, as are European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and United Nations High Representative for Afghanistan Kai Eide as well as the defense and interior ministers of Afghanistan.

The meetings follow by a week the International Conference on Afghanistan held in London, which in turn occurred the day after two days of meetings of the NATO Military Committee with the Chiefs of Defense of the military bloc’s 28 member states and 35 more from what were described as Troop Contributing Nations; presumably NATO partner nations with troops stationed in the Afghan war theater. In all, the military chiefs of 63 countries.

The U.S.’s McChrystal was present there also as were Israeli Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Beforehand the bloc’s website reported that “The various meetings will focus on the progress made in ongoing operations and the New Strategic Concept for NATO.” [2] That 35 top military commanders from non-NATO countries were present to hear plans for the escalation of what is already the largest war in the world is understandable, as their forces are on the ground as part of a 50-nation plus force under NATO military command. Read more of this post

London forum discarded India’s ‘greater’ Afghan role: Qureshi

* World accepts Islamabad’s stance that ‘Af-Pak’ policy not applicable to Pakistan
* Must engage elements willing to disarm

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi

LONDON: Afghanistan’s six immediate neighbours, as well as China and Russia (six-plus-two), feel no need for a “greater Indian role” in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Thursday.

Addressing a news conference at the Pakistan High Commission, Qureshi said the international community participating in the London Conference on Afghanistan had accepted Islamabad’s stance that a joint Pak-Afghan policy was no longer applicable to Pakistan, as both countries had their own distinct outlooks.He said the conference addressed Pakistan’s concerns regarding Afghanistan.

Af-Pak policy: “So this Af-Pak terminology was a mistake. We are two different countries with different levels of development. Our institutions and their capacities are different and today there was a clear departure from Af-Pak,” the foreign minister said. He said the conference also rejected new regional structure as advocated by certain elements.

Pakistan, Qureshi said, was of the opinion that the existing mechanisms in place were adequate and working well, and there was no need for new regional architecture. The foreign minister said as India had no border with Afghanistan, it did not fit into the scheme of things though it may continue to play a role in assisting development in Afghanistan. “We conveyed our point of view to Turkey in the trilateral and regional meetings held recently, we made our point loud and clear. In our interaction with various countries, we expressed our concern and today our point of view was understood and incorporated. The Afghan president and other important countries were of the view that there was no need for the new structure in the region.”

Engagement: Qureshi said Pakistan had been advocating that the international community would have to engage with elements willing to lay down arms and willing to shun violence. The international community, he added, endorsed this point of view. Qureshi said the Pakistani government had been pursuing a policy of dialogue, deterrence and development and the international community supported the point of view.

“So in many ways this conference was productive from Pakistan’s point of view,” he stressed. To a question, the foreign minister said Pakistan wanted the reconciliation and reintegration process to be “Afghan­owned and Afghan-led”, adding that President Hamid Karzai had asked Pakistan to help facilitate the reconciliation process with the Taliban.

“It is for the Afghans to take the lead and tell us what they want from us. We feel that stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan,” he said. Regarding the Saudi King Abdullah’s role in the reconciliation process, Qureshi said Saudi Arabia had historic links with Afghanistan and was an important country that could play a productive role in this regard. He mentioned that during his meetings with his counterparts from Malaysia and Indonesia, it was agreed that Muslim countries could a play a proactive role in Afghanistan along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Qureshi said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband had stood by Pakistan at the London Conference. app

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Russia, Turkey and the Great Game: Changing teams

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to Turkish last month shows that Turkey and Russia are rapidly developing close economic and political ties.

For all intents and purposes, Turkey has given up on the European Union, recognising it as a bastion of Islamophobia and captive to US diktat. As Switzerland bans minarets and France moves to outlaw the niqab, the popular Islamist government in Istanbul moves in the opposite direction — supporting the freedom to wear headscarfs, boldly criticising Israel and building bridges with Syria. This is nothing less than a fundamental realignment of Turkish politics towards Turkey’s natural allies — the Arabs … and the Russians.

This new alignment with Russia began in 2001 when Turkish and Russian foreign ministers signed the Eurasia Cooperation Action Plan. It went into high gear in February 2009, when Turkish President Abdullah Gul made a state visit to Russia, including a visit to the Russian Federation’s thriving and energy-rich Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan, populated by a majority of Muslim Turks, with pipelines, nuclear energy and trade the focus of attention.

In the past, Russia had poor relations with Turkey, which since its founding as a republic in 1922 was firmly in the Western camp and seen by Moscow as a springboard for infiltration into the Caucasus and its Turkic southern republics. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Yeltsin’s Russia acquiesced to US hegemony in the region, and as part of this opening to the West, Turkish schools, construction firms and traders came in great numbers to the ex-Soviet “stans” (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). 9/11 convinced Russian president Vladimir Putin to go so far as welcoming US military bases in the most strategic “stans”. The old Great Game appeared to be over, lost resoundingly by Russia.

But as the world tired of the US-sponsored “war on terrorism”, it seemed the Great Game was not over after all. A NATO member, Turkey was soon joined by Bulgaria and Romania, making the Black Sea a de facto NATO lake, alarming a now resurgent Russia.

Ukraine’s Western-backed “Orange Revolution” in 2004 further tilted the balance away from Russia, with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko defiantly vowing to join NATO and kick the Russian fleet out of Crimea. He even armed Georgia in its war with Russia in 2008.

However, not only Russia was fed up with the new pax americana. Over 90 per cent of Turks had an unfavourable view of the US by 2007. It is no surprise that Turkey began to back away from unconditional support of NATO and the US, notably, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, by its refusal in 2008 to allow US warships through the Bosphorus Strait to support Georgia, and by its outspoken criticism of Israel following the invasion of Gaza that year.

In contrast to the US-sponsored colour revolutions in the ex-socialist bloc, Turkey’s “Green Revolution” brought the religious-oriented Justice and Development Party to power in 2002. Its political direction has been in search of balance in the region and peaceful relations with its neighbours, including Armenia and the Kurds. In 2004 Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a joint declaration of cooperation in Ankara, updated in February 2009 by Gul and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. Gul declared, “Russia and Turkey are neighbouring countries that are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence. I hope this visit will in turn give a new character to our relations.”

Key to this is Turkey’s proposal for the establishment of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform. Following Gul’s visit, Turkish media even described Turkish-Russian relations as a “strategic partnership”, which no doubt set off alarm bells in Washington.

None of this would be taking place without solid economic interests. Turkish-Russian economic ties have greatly expanded over the past decade, with trade reaching $33 billion in 2008, much if it gas and oil, making Russia Turkey’s number one partner. They may soon use the Turkish lira and the Russian ruble in foreign trade.

This is the context of Medvedev’s visit 13 January to Ankara, which focussed primarily on energy cooperation. Russia’s AtomStroiExport had won the tender for the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear plant last year, and Medvedev was eager to get final approval on Turkish cooperation in Gazprom’s South Stream gas pipeline to Europe. Turkey will soon get up to 80 per cent of its gas from Russia, but this dependency is no longer viewed as a liability in light of the two countries’ new strategic relations.

Just what will happen to the West’s rival Nabucco pipeline, also intended to transit Turkey, is now a moot point. Nabucco hopes to bring gas from Iran and Azerbaijan to Europe through Turkey and Georgia. Given the standoff between the West and Iran and the instability of Georgia, this alternative to Russia’s plans looks increasingly unattractive. Azerbaijan, shrewdly, has already signed up with South Stream.

Kommersant quoted Gazprom officials as saying that Turkey could soon join Italy and Germany as Russia’s “strategic partner”. Italy’s ENI is co-funding the South Stream project. The other arm of Gazprom’s pincer move around Ukraine is Nord Stream, and Germany late last year gave its final approval for Nord Stream. A Polish minister compared the Russia-Germany Nord Stream project to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, because the pipeline allows Russia to deliver gas to Western Europe and “turn off the taps” to Ukraine in case it stops paying or starts stealing gas as happened several times under the Orange revolutionaries.

Turkey is very much a key player in this new Great Game, only it appears to have changed sides. The Russian and Turkish prime ministers voiced the hope that their trade would triple by 2015, and announced plans to for a visa-free regime by May this year. “In the end, without doubt, [a visa-free regime] will lead to activating cooperation between our countries,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

The presidential elections now in progress in Ukraine could take some of the wind out of the sails of South Stream. Its rationale could be brought into question if the new Ukrainian president succeeds in convincing Moscow that s/he will make sure no further hanky-panky takes place. Ukraine, in dire economic straits, needs the transit fees, which would disappear if current plans go ahead. But the damage the Orange revolutionaries did to Ukraine’s economy and relations with Russia is already a fait accompli. Says Alexander Rahr at the German Council on Foreign Relations, “Under every leadership, Ukraine will try to make use of its geographical position and the Russians realised this some time ago. This is why they desperately need a way to circumvent Ukraine.”

Even if Ukraine, too, changes teams and rejects NATO expansion plans, it will still have to thrash out a new role, most likely minus its gas transit commissions. Contender Viktor Yanukovich has signalled he would sign up to an economic cooperation agreement with Russia and smooth over existing political problems like the question of the Russian fleet and possibly the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Turkey could well follow suit. “If any Western country is going to recognise the independence of Abkhazia, it will be Turkey because of a large Abkhazian diaspora there,” says Rahr.

There is no reason why Ukraine couldn’t join the budding Russian-Turkish alliance, founded on regional stability and peace, unlike the current NATO-led one of confrontation and enmity. This would leave only the mad Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili quixotically fighting his windmills, dictator of a rump state — the very opposite of his intended role as NATO’s valiant knight leading its march eastward. Even inveterate Turkish foe Armenia seems eager to join the new line-up, as last year’s exchange of ambassadors demonstrated.by Eric Walberg

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

%d bloggers like this: